The Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t complete a comeback on Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets.
In a 123-116 loss, the Cavs trailed by as many as 19 before getting within four points with less than a minute to go. The Nets, though, held on in part to two late Kyrie Irving free throws to win. Cavs guard Darius Garland led all scorers with 46 points to pace the Cavs. Irving and Kevin Durant each had 32 points for the Nets.
Darius Garland, on fire
There’s no way this game is at all close late without Garland. He carried the Cavs with Donovan Mitchell limited to 15 points while largely guarded by Ben Simmons.
Garland, with Simmons on Mitchell, got to go at Kyrie Irving over and over. Garland has success there, breaking a number of nifty finishes against Irving or against a switch and through arms in the lane. He got downhill when he wanted and got to the line 15 times. Only once in his career (last season on March 11 against the Miami Heat) has Garland taken more free throws in a single game.
To boot, Garland was 5-7 from three. Everywhere on the floor, he made his shots. He had 8 assists and 1 turnover too. With Mitchell in check, Garland turned it up. This was his best performance of the season, bar none. On a better night overall for the team, it would have paired with a win.
A Lamar Stevens question
Stevens was not why the Cavs lost this game — there were bigger issues — but how he was used is part of the story.
For starters, he’s an odd fit with the other four starters and the minutes with that lineup haven’t been good. When he’s the spacer in the corner — oftentimes on the same side as Cleveland’s primary action — it eats up space. Brooklyn took advantage of that, layering multiple bodies in front of anyone involved in the action instead of defending Stevens.
With 2:57 left in the second quarter, J.B. Bickerstaff went back to Stevens to finish the half with the starters. When he subbed in, the Cavs were down four. At halftime, they were down 15. Cleveland’s starting lineup, with Stevens at the three, bled points in that stretch. Minutes where Stevens and Isaac Okoro play together were a struggle too and they’ve been outscored by 10.1 points per 100 possessions on the season.
There’s a role for Stevens — the Cavs need combo forward options who can play up. With Dean Wade out, Stevens is the only man for that role right now. But maybe how he’s used should change.
Corner three-pointers taken and missed
The Cavs came into Monday’s game with 8.3% of their shots coming on corner three-pointers. That percentage more than doubled to 17% against the Nets. They finished 4-13 on those attempts.
This felt like a defensive choice from the Nets. The idea, it seemed, was to push the ball into the hands of Lamar Stevens and Isaac Okoro (and, on one shot, Jarrett Allen) and dare them to shoot. That’s not new — teams have been daring the Cavs to shoot those shots all season — but this was that taken to the extreme.
To the Cavs’ credit, Stevens made two. Okoro took two when presented and didn’t hesitate when the shot was there. But Cleveland didn’t make them. Until they make those open looks at a high clip and make teams pay, this will be something the Cavs have to deal with. It’s absolutely something they’ll have to deal with in the spring.
Up next: The Cavs begin a two-game Central Division road trip on Thursday with a game against the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.